Prime Burger, the 74-year-old burger joint at 5 East 51st Street, will shutter on Saturday, May 26, co-owner John DiMiceli reluctantly confirmed this morning with a sigh. "We're sad to close," he told us, "We truly appreciate the many years we had. We're going to miss it. We're going to miss everyone." Now owned by brothers John and Michael, the DiMiceli family has operated Prime Burger for 36 years. As if that wasn't impressive enough, server Artie Ward started waiting tables at 19-years-old and remained a faithful employee for nearly 60 years! DiMiceli tells us that the building has been sold, and he was unable to reach an agreement with the new owner that would allow them to stay open.
For decades, Prime Burger has been a window to another time. The owners proudly tout the fact that they haven't updated the modest decor since the 1960s. Originally a 24/7 joint called Hamburg Heaven opened by Connecticut housewife Phyllis Moffet, the restaurant gently played on its location across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral with a slogan above the door that read "The Gates of Heaven—Never Closed." In 1965, following Moffet's death, Prime Burger took over the space on 51st Street and continued the tradition of serving up first-class burgers. In the December 26, 1942 edition of the Washington Post, columnist and gourmand Lucius Beebe praised the later legendary restaurant, "Beware of the gyp-burgers and bogus-burgers of envious imitators. Only the original will do."
Regulars like Rita Hayworth, Henry Fonda, and Sammy Davis, Jr. once crammed into the tight booths with swivel trays reminiscent of school desks, but the nostalgic atmosphere isn't the only aspect that kept patrons coming back. Handmade each morning with beef from a supplier in the Bronx, the tender and juicy burgers are quintessentially New York. In 2004, the prestigious James Beard Foundation even bestowed an award recognizing Prime Burger as one of America's best classic restaurants.
If you can't make it before the Saturday closing, take another look at this short film about Prime Burger by This Must Be The Place, and then ask yourself what it is you like about Shake Shack again: